(In a recent communication entitled The Courage to Change, GMSDC President and CEO Stacey Key issued a challenge to the business community to effect real change in light of America’s issues with race, class and economic equity. This is a continuation of that dialogue…)
The American business community landscape is different now. In the aftermath of protests and civil unrest demanding a reckoning with her past transgressions, the United States of America may never have been more divided. Political rancor, partisan divisions and adversarial confrontation are the norm in this moment, as the nation transitions into a new administration and seeks to emerge from an economic slump brought on by the COVID – 19 pandemic. The question with which I closed my last message is still on the floor. What are you prepared to do?
The confluence of an unprecedented group of factors – a global health pandemic, a subsequent economic contraction and widespread unrest due to police violence and racial tension – has brought America to a different kind of crossroads. The history of this great nation includes many critical moments, where leaders were faced with urgent and consequential decisions about who we wanted to be, what our role was in the world and how we wanted to conduct ourselves as a nation. But, America has not been this divided since the devastating war that took 600,000 lives some 160 years ago. The specter of America’s long-running struggle with issues of race, class, gender and equal opportunity still hangs over us like a cloud, and it is time for that to change.
There is a tremendous energy in the business community today about stepping up and being the change in our communities. Corporations and foundations are donating and earmarking unprecedented amounts of funding for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access initiatives. These range from diversifying boards of directors and fast-tracking diverse candidates for senior leadership, to supplier diversity programs and ‘blind’ HR recruiting strategies that mask a candidate’s personal details to eliminate biases in the screening process. Funds and foundations have been created with hundreds of millions of corporate dollars set aside to show their meaningful intentions. While all of that is good and represents progress, I submit to you that the rubber has not yet fully met the road. It is time for us to translate all of the visible goodwill, statements of core values, creation of diversity committees and donations into legitimate economic impact – loans, grants, bids, contracts, jobs, revenues, community development and generational wealth.
As an advocate for minority business development and a woman in business, I am keenly aware that the key to survival and the most important resource we can provide to an emerging business is an opportunity, an honest chance to do great work and be paid for it. I suggest we get down to the hard work of transforming our business climate and supercharging our economy by putting small business to work –
- Corporations must do more now than publish nominal supplier diversity goals that can be easily achieved in the normal course of business. Given the historical inequities, it is past time for us to stretch ourselves and make the utilization of diverse suppliers the priority.
- Supply chain entities must look deep into their decision-making processes to ensure diverse candidates are not just in the room but seated at the table of opportunity. It is a moral obligation for a company that receives revenue from a broad spectrum of customers to rededicate to the concept of doing business with those cultures and communities who do business with them.
- Donations cannot be considered a substitute for legitimate economic action that opens doors and levels the playing field. Diverse companies are more than capable of doing any task or fulfilling any requirement – what is needed is the courage to consider them on an equal footing with other suppliers. They will exceed expectations if allowed into the game.
- Each of the funds and foundations corporate America has established in response to the events of the past year must make an action plan for how those dollars are to be used to catalyze business development and real opportunity. A symposium, conference or workshop is nice, but the trail of information must lead to a legitimate opportunity to compete.
- Community impact efforts must be targeted to activities that improve the actual quality of life where people live, work and play. Too many project plans have nominal community outreach or economic development goals that result in very little real action or investment. Cities and counties must do a better job of looking after the interests of communities – often made up of poor and/or minority residents – that are targeted for the development of stadiums, convention centers, office buildings and shopping districts. Jobs and opportunities for local suppliers must play a bigger role or the project should not go forward.
- State and local governments must lead the charge in the utilization of diverse suppliers in their own supply chains. Too many entities, including my own home state of Georgia, do not do enough to engage all of their citizens, even though they serve, and collect taxes, from everyone. Some governments have diverse supplier participation numbers in the single digits, percentage-wise, even though their populations are 30 to 50% diverse cultures.
Much has been said about the reckoning that America is undergoing in light of all of these recent developments. The fact that COVID – 19 has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color and poor people is rooted in institutional neglect and community attitudes, not medical realities. The American creed declares that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. The time for her to live up to those aspirational words is now, and the tool for the establishment of true equity in our nation is the US economy. I am fighting daily to put food on American tables and funds into American pockets…will you join me in this fight?